Freudian belief holds that during development, an individual who misses out on a certain “stage”- for whatever the reason, tragic or not- will be fixated at that stage; and I can’t help but wonder if there is some truth to that thought. While I cannot attest to any oral fixations, I can loosely apply this principle to my own sense of disappointment during my undergraduate years. As I would imagine most people do, I started my first year of college with a sense of bubbly, giddy (and maybe a little naïve) excitement. I had moved away from home for the first time, was eating ice cream-based dinners in crowded dining-halls, hanging out with new and interesting friends, and dancing with guys in basement parties. It was a simultaneously terribly frightening and wonderfully thrilling experience. However, during the summer between my first and second years at school, my roommate, and closest friend, was diagnosed with a serious illness, and though I did not immediately understand, everything would change. Out of respect for my friend- an incredible woman who coped with her illness and treatment with strength and patience- I will not get into the heavy details about the period that followed. Ultimately, it was a high-stress, melancholy-filled year that pushed all of our friendships, spirits, and beliefs, and changed my outlook on pretty much everything. In the middle of our second semester, my friend was informed that her treatment had been successful, but by then, we had all changed. As for myself, I waited out the final weeks of school just ready to move back with my family and crash for the four months of summer. I did a lot of lounging on the couch during that time- Ben & Jerry became my close friends.
Now, I am a recent graduate, and I feel a sense of loss: a loss for that “typical” college experience that I had in my freshman year. Looking back, I never really went wild during college- never joined a sorority or club or dressed inappropriately on Halloween. Now, I am a little worried that missed stage will come spouting out of me in some highly inappropriate way- something akin to Natalie Portman’s drunken behavior at a work-place Christmas party in the movie No Strings Attached (“you look like a pumkin, bitch!”). But, at the same time, I have to wonder, did I truly “miss out”? I mean, I had some pretty fantastic times in college. During my third year of school I studied and interned abroad in Paris. Beside stepping out of my comfort-zone and speaking the foreign language, I met incredible people- some of the best I have ever known- and made lasting friendships (plus I got to eat fresh baguettes on the daily, so that wasn’t too bad either). On top of that, I spent two of my college spring breaks doing ASB (Alternative Spring Breaks) in NYC and Arkansas, got a scholarship to present my academic research at an international conference, and trained for two half-marathons. Plus, during my sophomore year, while I wasn’t partying, I was excelling at school and landed a paid research position with an incredible women’s health initiative that helped me to realize my passion for public health and inspired me to apply to an accelerated B.A./M.P.H program. I even accumulated enough credits to graduate a semester early and spend the next months living with a friend across the country in Los Angeles while I learned the ropes of networking, job-searching, and eventually, working a professional job. Sure, I only rarely rolled into my apartment in the wee hours of the morning or dressed up in sequins while dancing at roof parties, but I did have some pretty awesome times. Maybe, just maybe, my experience is still great, even if it wasn’t the typical one. I grew up a little faster, but I became stronger as a student and person because of it.
So, in the end, I can’t know for sure if Freud is right. Will I go crazy during my twenties to compensate for the drunken nights I missed out on in school? I guess I’ll find out. What I do know is that I need to let go of those feelings of regret and disappointment for having an “alternative” college experience. In reality, I would guess that there many others out there, who, like me, hold their own sense of disappointment because, well, life happens, and sometimes plans need to be shifted in response. We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can choose how we live our lives now and in the future. For me, that means taking advantage of the good that happened during college- i.e. getting into a competitive graduate program and discovering my dream career- and using that as a fuel to live my current life, here and now, to the fullest. We all have our own unique stories and experiences; we need to learn, accept, and eventually move on from our past in order to keep moving forward and cultivating a life we love and appreciate.